Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arranging a visit to Japan by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in late March for summit talks, government sources said Sunday.
Abe is eager to strengthen ties with the 92-year-old president, who has been in power since the African country’s independence in 1980, to gain his support ahead of the next Tokyo International Conference on African Development scheduled to be held in Kenya in August, they said.
The upcoming TICAD meeting will be the first to be held in Africa. Mugabe’s visit to Japan is expected between March 27 and 31, according to the sources.
Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, along with other European countries and the United States have blasted Mugabe as a dictator and imposed sanctions against him.
Mugabe, who was a rebel leader against white minority rule, has been recognized as a symbol of the black liberation movement in Africa, but his crackdown on opposition forces since around 2000 has sparked criticism.
Inviting him to Japan could raise doubts about Abe’s policy of promoting universal values such as freedom and democracy.
A Japanese government source said, however, Mugabe would be “the best person to help Japan increase its influence in Africa” given his political reach. Tokyo aims to pitch its infrastructure technology in the continent.
Mugabe last visited Japan in March 2015 to attend the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai.